- Benin’s national MSP was created through a consensus-building workshop which resulted in its establishment by Presidential decree, giving the MSP legitimacy and sustainability – though the decree has proved too rigid to allow for additional stakeholders to join easily.
- The MSP has a clear vision and set of roles, although it has tended to blur into an implementation role as well, which is sometimes seen as a competitor to other nutrition stakeholders.
- The MSP’s positioning under the President’s office has provided a high level of convening power both within government and of other stakeholders, but this high-level placement the CAN has made it sensitive to government changes, and it finds itself in periods of political limbo.
- The CAN has a clear and formal structure at national level, and through a donor-funded project also has decentralized coordination platforms at local level in some areas, though the management of these has monopolized the time of the CAN Secretariat and left less time for strategic coordination.
Purpose of MSP
In Benin, chronic malnutrition is perceived as an urgent and long-lasting issue. Nearly 34% of children under five suffer from insufficient nutrition over a prolonged period and the rate is even higher in rural areas. A multi-sectoral approach has largely been acknowledged by Beninese nutrition actors as the way forward since the 1970s, when Benin became a centre for multi-disciplinary nutrition studies in West Africa. However, the first attempt of setting-up a multi-stakeholder platform only happened in the 2000s.
In 2007, the World Bank organised a national workshop, gathering government officials, national and international NGOs, and international organisations aiming to improve the institutionalisation of nutrition and it’s repositioning at the centre of development policies. The workshop resulted in the Guédévy Consensus, whose main recommendations were the creation of a High Authority on Nutrition and the drafting of a National Development Strategy for Food and Nutrition. The Food and Nutrition Council (CAN), Benin’s MSP, was finally established in 2009 by Presidential decree 2009-245, and became operational in 2011. In addition, the National Strategic Plan was also published in 2009 to provide the framework for CAN to coordinate cross-sectoral actions in the sector.
CAN’s vision is ‘a country where every individual enjoys a satisfactory nutritional status in order to participate fully in the development of an emerging Benin’. The role of the CAN is to create synergies among actors, to mobilise funds, and to elaborate multisectoral policies and strategies. As stated in the Presidential decree, its objectives are: to define the national policy on food and nutrition; to ensure the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the National Action Plan on Food and Nutrition; and to coordinate actions related to food and nutrition. Although the main objectives of the CAN are to coordinate and develop synergies, it is also playing a role of implementing agency.
Positioning and leadership
The 2009 establishment of the MSP was built on lessons learnt through previous failed attempts around high-level leadership, and placed it directly under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic. At this stage, the support of international organisations, especially the World Bank and UNICEF, was decisive in mobilising actors and ensuring government commitment through the consensus-building workshop. The objective of placing the MSP under the Presidency was to ensure the commitment of the members and the political relevance of the structure. However, due to this high-level placement the CAN has also become sensitive to government changes. The current President, who was elected in 2016, has not yet designated his representative in the Council (as of August 2018). In the meantime, the ordinary and extraordinary sessions are chaired by CAN’s Permanent Secretary. Although the MSP is fully operational, its ability to mobilise and engage with partners has decreased as a result of this political limbo.
The Guédévy Consensus provided a vision that guides the work of the MSP. From the vision, the council planned to elaborate a national policy, from which a strategy could be developed for programmes and projects. In practice however, the CAN jumped from the vision to the National Strategic Plan, and a policy is still under construction. The projects and programmes implemented within this framework are providing empirical data for the elaboration of the national policy.
The Permanent Secretariat (SP-CAN) functions as the executive body of the CAN. From 2011 to 2014 the Secretariat operated in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, and this rotates through other ministries. As well as the Secretariat, CAN has a steering committee and a clear set of directors for different activities under the MSP. The CAN meets twice each year in their ordinary sessions: one for the validation of the annual action plan; and a second for mid-term assessment of stakeholders actions. Extraordinary sessions can be organised accordingly.
Figure 1. Structure of the MSP
In 2015, the SP-CAN launched a nation-wide project funded by the World Bank. The objective of the Multisectoral Food, Health and Nutrition Project (PMASN) is to strengthen capacities at the district level to mainstream nutrition in local policies through the establishment of Communal Concertation Frameworks (CCC). These local multisectoral platforms replicate the role of the CAN at the district level. They constitute spaces of coordination by gathering the stakeholders who intervene on nutrition issues at the local level.
Through that project, the SP-CAN is very active in the field. However, some partners now see the SP-CAN as a competitor instead of a multisectoral coordinator. The management of the project has become the main activity of the Secretariat, monopolising time and resources that could be applied in coordination activities, mobilisation of funds, and lobbying. On the other hand, this project allows the SP-CAN to gather experience in implementing projects that might, in the future, improve monitoring and evaluating partners’ programmes and projects.
The CAN is chaired by the President of the Republic and is explicitly multi-stakeholder, composed of government ministries, civil society organisations, private sector, farmers’ association, and research and training institutions. In total, 34 members, including formal stakeholders and designated alternates, constitute the highest coordination structure.
The composition of the Council, as designated by the Presidential decree, is too rigid to incorporate new members that have become relevant in the meantime. This relates, in particular, to the civil society membership, currently represented by the Consumer’s Association, whereas other CSOs have emerged as suitable members. The risk related to the lack of flexibility rests in the potential emergence of parallel networks that could diminish CAN’s influence.
Despite these challenges, the CAN is still acknowledged and endorsed by every actor in the food and nutrition sector as the main platform for coordinating cross-sectoral actions. For example, the CAN chairs every event related to projects that are being implemented, and partners also inform the Council about their actions and achievements. The Council has thus become the most relevant place for reporting, sharing information and knowledge, and for mutual accountability. In addition to this, the participatory workshop process that led to the establishment of the CAN demonstrates the ability of Beninese stakeholders to adapt and to build on the already broadly acknowledged importance of a multisectoral approach to tackle malnutrition in Benin.
With the support of the World Bank, the government provided offices and increased the number of permanent staff in 2014 to 10 permanent state employees and 27 temporary staff hired through project funding. Despite the relatively high number of employees, it is insufficient for carrying out effectively the activities assigned, including the management of the decentralised MSPs set up through the World Bank project. Furthermore, the externally-funded and temporary status of most of the staff brings instability to the MSP and weakens its leadership and mobilising power.
The high political status of the MSP, although an advantage for engaging partners, requires continuous efforts for legitimising the platform in order to keep a minimum level of public funding. Government grants vary with political changes, and though the support of international organisations allows the Council to keep running, it also creates a financial dependency that might compromise the sustainability of the MSP and is seen to divert it from its core mission of strategic coordination of nutrition stakeholders and actions in Benin.